A possie in Aussie

October 20, 2009

Winning the asylum-seeker war of words, part 2

As Stephen asked (see Comments, How to win the war of words about asylum seekers) just how can we turn back the floods of paranoid rhetoric, if numbers and reasoned argument don’t work?

As President Lyndon B. Johnson said “the ultimate victory will depend on the hearts and minds of the people who actually live out there’.

Yes, I know, Johnson was talking about winning the Vietnam war. Sorry to quote from the right wing, but they do this sort of thing much better than liberals, in general.

We have a highly privileged life in Australia, and our secret fear is that the rest of the world is waiting for any chance to grab that from us. In order to keep us calm, and let in some of the underprivileged, successive immigration departments has met our fears with a tightly-managed refugee resettlement regime.

Australia’s policy on refugees has been, since the 1970s, a few thousand refugees resettled every year, chosen individually, ‘case by case’, by the immigration department from UNHCR recommendations. Being generous, but safeguarding our comfort.

In the last few decades that mythology has crumbled in the face of sharp increases in asylum applications from ‘boat people’. We have not adapted to this new reality.

We have never had a mythology or policy of giving shelter, and we are floundering around, grasping for one right now.

This is the moment for Rudd to step forward and claim the debate.

Phillip Coorey (Unconvincing acts on asylum seekers) says, “Rudd enjoys enormous political capital. If he takes a consistent line on both policy and rhetoric, he may just be rewarded for it.”  

Conservatives more easily win the hearts and minds because they are not as afraid of metaphor, symbol and hyperbole.

Obama has shown that liberals can do it too.

This sort of rhetoric must come from deeply-held beliefs if it is to resonate. Howard really believed that he could control ‘who comes to Australia, and the manner in which they come’.

Does Rudd believe deeply enough in the right of the oppressed to seek asylum in Australia to speak from the heart?

Mark Kenny agrees that how Rudd handles the crisis will be a defining moment for him, “personally and politically”. My name is Kevin Rudd, and I’m just like John Howard

Could we tempt him with a Nobel prize for turning the tide of Australian history?


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